Statement From NFCA Regarding GREAT Kitchens Designation

We want you to understand our approach with the new tiered system.

Since we announced the expansion of our GREAT Kitchens program on April 25, 2012, we have received inquiries about our approach and why NFCA is taking this step now.

The expansion includes a new credentialing system specifically for the restaurant industry — a Green Designation and an Amber Designation — that addresses what we feel is a self-guided, unsupervised gluten-free movement that has spread nationwide.  As an organization on the forefront of gluten-free education, we believe it is our responsibility to protect consumers with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity amid this environment that is full of misinformation, confusion and a lack of understanding regarding the differences between gluten-free ingredients, cross-contamination and what is, in fact, safe for consumption.

We anticipated that the feedback regarding our launch of two designations would be mixed.  Our loyal supporters expect us to protect those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. That is our mission. As the marketplace changes and gluten-free items appear on restaurant menus across America, the situation isn’t always getting better. In some cases, it’s getting worse.

Over the past few days we quizzed chefs and restauranteurs on the floor of the National Restaurant Association Show, an international gathering of professionals in the foodservice industry. Many of these chefs said they have gluten-free options at their restaurants, yet less than 5% of them responded correctly to all four questions about gluten. [See quiz questions here.]  It reinforces our greatest fears: the restaurant industry is too often unaware of the risks they are posing to the health of those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Whether you agree with our strategy or not, it is important to understand our approach.

We created a Green Designation for those restaurants willing to go through the extensive effort of using gluten-free ingredients, putting their staff through comprehensive training and ensuring that there are strict cross-contamination controls in their kitchens. Together, these three elements make up an important step in creating an approved designation in the restaurant industry.

For all of those restaurants that are not prepared to meet these three standards, we offer an Amber Designation, which acknowledges that the restaurant is using gluten-free ingredients and has completed staff training to understand the health needs of those with gluten-related disorders. However, these restaurants cannot guarantee an environment free of cross-contamination. Instead, their staff is trained to communicate these potential risks. These risks may include having airborne flour in the facility, using a shared prep area, or having inconsistency in staff abilities, i.e. restaurants that can only serve gluten-free safely during non-busy times, among other risks.

The GREAT Kitchens program is taking this step to address those restaurants who promote gluten-free options without training, transparency or even knowledge of cross-contamination. Again, while we may agree to disagree about this approach, we believe we have put in place a system that can minimize the confusion, motivate an industry to train their staffs properly and, ultimately, create a groundswell that moves all restaurants to a Green Designation. That’s our goal. We need your support in encouraging your local restaurant to do just that.  It’s your responsibility to say, “I’m glad you have taken the initial steps towards understanding celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but what we want is for you to go the extra mile to serve items without cross-contamination.”

Change is never easy and it’s never without conflict or disagreement, but we hope that you will rally behind our common mission to eliminate the self-guided restaurateur, to create transparency within the four walls of America’s restaurants, to train a workforce that is currently uneducated about gluten-free preparation, and to move the marketplace to a Green Designation, sooner rather than never.

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

This article was originally posted by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, find it here.

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